Part 2: Gospel Renewal
Personal renewal occurs when the Spirit impresses the truth and entailments of the gospel deeply into our hearts and minds. Corporate renewal (i.e. revival) occurs when a body of believers are experiencing personal renewal. A revival takes place because of the work of the Holy Spirit, intensely working through normal means such as prayer, preaching, evangelism, etc. Some revivals have been criticized for being too individualistic and detached from the authority of local congregations, and although there are dangers, revivals are from God. In our society most people are not connected to a church, so revival fits our culture by targeting individuals. It also focuses the message on the need for heart change which is a biblical focus. The heart is the center of the person and it is with the heart that we repent and entrust ourselves to Jesus. Paul prays that Christians will come to know the love of God more and more—we are to continue to grow in our experience of the Lord.
There are three ways of responding to God, two of which actually reject him. These ways are irreligion, religion, and the gospel. In religion people trust their own morality and works-righteousness to be saved. Even many genuine Christians default to religion and live their lives trying to measure up so they can be acceptable to God. Obedience must be our grateful response to God’s love and grace, not our attempt at making the grade. Religion appeals to our pride and controls us by fear of punishment on one hand and an egotistical superiority on the other. The gospel teaches us that we are sinful and yet loved by God, and it is this grace that gives us the power to obey God out of the right motives. We naturally manufacture and worship idols in our hearts, and we sin in order to maintain them (e.g. if money is an idol we may cheat on our taxes). Idolatry is a failure to trust in Jesus alone, so the solution to idolatry is clinging to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Revivals begin with extraordinary prayer that focuses on grace, salvation of the lost, and knowing God. They also come with a rediscovery of the truth and power of the gospel. The gospel is then applied in all areas of church life—it is preached, taught, and discussed. Discussion can take place in small groups or in casual conversations. Life change should be seen and shared. Preaching for gospel renewal will differentiate religion from the gospel as well as balance the holiness and love of God to demonstrate his grace. It will be clear and make the truth real. It will also show how biblical passages lead to Christ, and be addressed to both the regenerate and unregenerate. When a revival is occurring people who erroneously thought they were saved are converted and sleepy Christians wake up. Lives begin to change, worship deepens, and biblical truth is cherished. Because of the changes taking place in individuals, barriers to community are cast down and relationships based on humility, love, and service are formed. Churches can grow numerically without revival, but fruit and vitality will be missing.